College or university is often the first time young adults taste the freedom of being on their own – but it also means taking some responsibility for personal finance. With good planning, students can have some money left over for a social life and avoid that end-of-semester crunch that leaves so many stuck indoors eating macaroni and cheese.
Create your first cash flow statement:
A cash flow statement shows where your money is coming in and where it’s going. Begin by listing your sources of income: education savings plans, savings from summer jobs, part-time wages, parental contributions, loans, bursary, etc. Then calculate your monthly (or weekly) average income. In a second column, set out your regular expenses, both fixed (rent, tuition) and variable, and determine the average. Is there a negative balance?
Establish a budget to close the gap:
Drawing up a budget to live within your means and tracking your expenses are skills that will generate rewards throughout life. Here are some tips:
Whittle down non-essential spending. Break down your variable expenses into essential (spending like food and books, which you cannot avoid) and non-essential (eating out) and then tackle the non-essential spending first. For example, learn to cook and build menus around food items that you pick up on sale. Set aside funds. Open a special account with enough funds to cover fixed expenses so you’ll never be caught short. To be safe, allocate regular variable as part of your fixed expenses and withdraw set amounts monthly. Pay less. Seek out student discounts. Take advantage of sales. Buy used items wherever possible – like textbooks, furniture and even brand-name clothes.
Avoid debt. Pay with cash or debit card. Use credit cards sparingly, ask for a low credit limit and vow never to carry a high-cost balance.
Increase income. Consider a part-time job or be creative in offering students a paid service (like recording music). You may pay little or no tax on your income. For extra cash, sell any devices or other items in good condition that you don’t need.
Being a student is an exciting time of life. Use these tips to take control of your money, make the most of this learning experience – and get off on a sound financial footing for the future.